The political world took a deep dive into the wrong end of the swimming pool not once but twice this week. First, a top secret assassination program that the CIA withheld from the Congress for eight years at the request of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Second, angry old white men kept beating a dead horse about “a wise Latina” during Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing. I find it curious that there was one angry old white man who kept unusually silent.
Where in the world is Dick Cheney?
A tempest in a teapot been brewing at the CIA about an on-and-off program to form paramilitary teams to selectively take out suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists on their own home turf. Following the 9/11 attacks, hunting down terrorists was what most Americans expected their government to do. But the CIA was legally restrained from conducting any kind of political assassination after past abuses to subvert foreign governments was exposed by the Church Committee in the 1970’s. The CIA was no longer supposed to behave like the KGB when it comes to dealing with terrorists.
During the Lebanon hostage crisis in the 1980’s, the hostages were always Americans and Western Europeans. Why not hostages from the Soviet and Eastern Europe? When four Soviet diplomats were taken the hostage, the KGB counter-terrorism group tracked down the families of the hostage takers, cut off various body parts to send back in a shoebox, and waited for the hostages takes to get message that the KGB was more ruthless than they were. The Russians didn’t have another hostage situation for the next 20 years.
This is what people say is wrong with the CIA today: too many restrictions for past abuses limits how effectively the spy agency can protect American against terrorists.
However, the U.S. military is not having that problem in Afghanistan or Iraq since both countries are considered to be war zones, and taking out the enemy is what military commanders are tasked to do as long as it doesn’t violate the Geneva Convention. Launching missiles from a Predator drone is more effective than inserting a paramilitary team into a hostile country, eliminating the target, and getting the team out. The drones are not without controversy since innocent civilians have been killed by mistake or caught up in targeted blast area.
The fact that Mr. Cheney order the existence of the program to be withheld from the Congress intelligence committees isn’t surprising considering the negative connotations that the American public associates with the CIA’s past usage of assassination. However, there has been no public comment from Mr. Cheney regarding this. Which is surprising considering how strident he was a few months ago by demanding that the Obama Administration declassify certain CIA memos to prove him correct in another intelligence controversy. His silence in this matter speaks louder than the white noise coming out of the confirmation hearing.
Where in the world is Dick Cheney? Here are my guesses.
- He accidentally locked himself in his ultra-secret bunker and no one bothered to check in on him.
- He’s out of the country checking out various tropical islands for a new ultra-secure bunker.
- He’s writing his memoirs that President Barack Obama suggested the title should be How to Shoot Your Friends & Interrogate People.
- He’s being “respectful” of the angry old white men by being silent while they beat a dead horse about “a wise Latina” during the confirmation hearings.
- He’s guilty as hell this time and his attorney told him to shut up.
I suspect the last one may be the real reason. The Bush Administration past attempts to assert excessive executive powers without check and balances—most of which was unnecessary—is finally becoming a legal threat to the various players involved that we may see a repeat of the Church Committee. Something that President Obama wanted to avoid to keep America focused on his agenda by moving the country forward.
Maybe Mr. Cheney will show up on the Sunday talk shows if the angry old white men are finished beating their dead horse in the public square.
Updated 18 July 2009 @ 10:30AM: Richard A. Clarke, a former national security officer for three presidents, has a thoughtful analysis in the Wall Street Journal concerning the CIA conflict of staying in the rule of law and being an effective intelligence agency.